This post originally appeared on Our Social Times. I will be joined by speakers from HSBC and Sony at OST’s FREE Webinar – Social Business; Moving Beyond Engagement’ on the 11th July (3pm BST). Book a place here.
Now that we are about seven years into the social media era, most of us now have stories about successful or unsuccessful interactions with brands via Facebook and Twitter. For every “I asked them on Twitter and got a much better response than their customer service phone line” anecdote, there are plenty of “I posted on their Facebook wall but they never replied”.
Companies who fall into the first category are held up as shining examples of businesses that “get social”; those in the second category are corporate dinosaurs whose very existence is threatened if they don’t change the way they work.
But what if this is actually precisely the opposite of the truth? What if those companies who are delivering the fastest response on Twitter are endangering their sustainability by neglecting traditional customer service channels, while those who are ignoring Facebook comments are doing so in order to focus on real customer issues instead of non-constructive moaning from customers who are just looking for somewhere to air their grievances?
The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between. Ignoring comments on social media is foolish, but it is important to understand what drives those comments. 23% of people who complain on social media do so purely out of vengeance, and 71% do so because of failure to get an adequate response from traditional customer service. So rather than celebrating your success in responding quickly via Twitter, consider what drove the customer to complain on such a public forum in the first place.
At a series of Social CRM events over the last couple of years, I’ve had the privilege of listening to and speaking to a number of companies who are trying to get this balance right.
Two stories of “social media success” have stuck very vividly in my mind:
Firstly, a speaker who recounted his personal experience of accidentally filling his car with petrol instead of diesel and complaining about it on Twitter. The petrol company saw it and arranged for it to be sorted out free of charge.
Secondly, a speaker from an airline who had several anecdotes about how unhappy customers with very large Twitter followings had their travel problems rapidly resolved by the airline.
On the surface of it, these two stories look like examples of companies who are listening to customers and providing a great response. But ask yourself this – could they provide the same service to every customer? How many Twitter followers do you need to get preferential airline service? Or to get the oil industry to compensate for your refueling errors? Both are, on a less spectacular scale, similar to the story of Peter Shankman (156,924 followers) being greeted by a Morton’s steak at Newark airport. Nobody suggests that was “customer service” – it was a PR stunt. A very good PR stunt, but a stunt all the same.
Unfortunately, most of what currently passes for customer engagement or social customer service is actually either brand protection or PR. There’s nothing wrong with either of those – both are essential parts of doing business. But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking they represent the future of customer service. When you find that you have set up a parallel customer service operation in your marketing team, you should know that something is wrong.
So, instead of priding yourself in how much faster your social team handles a customer problem than your customer service team, ask yourself why your customer service team is failing to respond as effectively as the social team. Giving preferential treatment to those who complain the loudest and most publicly is not sustainable, because this policy will become very apparent to customers, and soon everyone will be complaining loudly and publicly.
Instead, you should be providing consistently high customer service levels across all channels, making it easy for a customer to get a resolution to their problem whether they choose to report it by phone, email, or social media.
It is also not particularly meaningful to assess how successful you are at resolving customer issues on social media sites. Facebook and Twitter are great places for making contact with customers, but they lack the depth required to address all but the simplest issues. It is more important that you are seamlessly integrating these highly visible social channels with your own customer communities and CRM systems so that the customer journey towards the right place to get their problem resolved is as smooth as possible.
The true champions of social business are not the companies who have the most eye-catching presence on big public social networks – they are the companies who are most successful in integrating the strengths of social media into their business processes to deliver the best overall customer experience.